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No need to wheeze: Asthma tips offered
Doctors to provide free asthma screening at Mary Washington Hospital May 20

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Date published: 5/14/2006


Life-threatening asthma attacks get people's attention, but so should the everyday aggravations and fatigue that can come with the disease.

As often as not, asthma's chief symptom is a nagging cough. The symptoms can be subtle--a little wheezing, an inability to get a good, full breath.

Since the problems don't typically land people in the ER, sufferers often chalk them up to a cold or virus and don't get help. Local asthma specialists want to change that.

This Saturday, during a health fair at Mary Washington Hospital, local asthma doctors will screen people for the condition.

"Most people, when they think of asthma, they think of the emergency room, or they think of death," said Dr. Peter Smith, of Allergy and Asthma Associates of Fredericksburg. "[But] asthma can present itself in a seemingly benign way."

Smith and several other physicians from his practice will conduct free screenings at the hospital from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Participants will fill out a questionnaire and take a test called a spirogram that measures lung function.

People who appear to need treatment will be told to follow up with their family physicians. They also will be given a list of asthma specialists in the area.

Those suffering from severe cases of asthma may be sent either to Smith's office for further testing and treatment or to the hospital emergency department.

"That doesn't happen very often," said Smith, who has conducted free screenings for several years. "But we have had to intervene with acute treatment."

Smith said people with breathing problems should know that they don't need to suffer.

Treatment is available to manage even the most severe cases of asthma, he said. Many patients find they need medication only to combat occasional episodes brought on by allergies, exercise, cold weather or illness.

"There are a variety of very safe inhaled and oral medications that can keep things under control," Smith said. "The important thing is that the symptoms get recognized and diagnosed as asthma."

While a trip to the ER fits the stereotype of a suffering asthma patient, most patients present with milder symptoms. And rather than heading to the hospital, they typically stay home from work or school. Absences are common among people with untreated asthma, Smith said.

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